Grand National: Johnson steals in to partner Therealbandit

Leading jockey will partner Pipe's second string
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The Independent Online

Richard Johnson, two days ago unique among top-flight riders as being without a Grand National mount, has secured his ticket to the Aintree spectacular on board one of Martin Pipe's leading contenders. His brinkmanship has rewarded him with the ride on either Therealbandit or last year's fourth, It Takes Time, the latter currently favoured by stable jockey Timmy Murphy.

Johnson, 17 winners behind Tony McCoy in the race for the jockeys' title, finished second in the National on Whats Up Boys four years ago. "You wouldn't want to take a ride just for the sake of it," he said. "I decided to wait for a bit to see what came up, and I've been lucky enough to get a good one."

Murphy rode It Takes Time in the National last year, and Johnson was on the 12-year-old when he finished a close fourth in the Becher Chase this season. "Whichever one Timmy turns down will still be a very good horse to get on," Johnson said. "It Takes Time gave me a fantastic ride in the Becher and Therealbandit beat a Gold Cup second when he won at Wetherby in December. Either will be well worth riding."

Therealbandit has not yet been to Aintree but has practised over the Grand National lookalike fences at Pipe's Somerset base. "Both horses have been schooling over them, and jumped them well," said Murphy. "But I'm leaning towards It Takes Time because he's been round the real things twice before."

Another confirmed booking is that of Brian Harding for Inca Trail, the latest horse to join Ginger McCain's final assault on the National. The 10-year-old was bought by McCain at auction for 110,000 guineas and will race in the Amberleigh House colours of owner John Halewood.

Four Class Contenders. By Sue Montgomery

Hedgehunter

Irish-bred bay gelding (foaled 25-1-96) by Montelimar ex Aberedw. Trainer: Willie Mullins, Co Carlow. Owner: Trevor Hemmings. Jockey: Ruby Walsh. Weight: 11st 12lb.

Faced with a rum old task. No horse has either won the National twice or successfully carried top-weight since Red Rum. But after his excellent runner-up spot in last month's Gold Cup, Hedgehunter, who scored very easily last year, is deemed to be ahead of the handicapper.

Best price: 11-2.

Royal Auclair

French-bred chestnut gelding (8-5-97) by Garde Royale ex Carmonera.

Trainer: Paul Nicholls, Somerset. Owner: Clive Smith.

Jockey: Christian Williams.

Weight: 11st 12lb.

Though comprehensively beaten when runner-up last year, his was a fine effort on ground too soft. A high-class staying handicapper, as he showed when winning under a big weight at Cheltenham in December - and as good as ever when ninth in the Gold Cup.

Best price: 25-1.

Sir Rembrandt

Irish-bred bay gelding (9-3-96) by Mandalus ex Sue's A Lady.

Trainer: Robert Alner, Dorset.

Owner: Alan Hordle.

Jockey: Andrew Thornton.

Weight: 11st 1lb.

Placed in two Cheltenham Gold Cups before running seventh in last month's race, staying on at the end. Had a dull start to the season, but bounced back to form in classy marathon contests, being placed at Warwick and Haydock. But has not won for more than two years.

Best price: 20-1.

Innox

French-bred bay gelding (7-4-96) by Lute Antique ex Savane.

Trainer: François Doumen, Chantilly.

Owner: JP McManus.

Jockey: Robert Thornton.

Weight: 10st 13lb.

Only two horses trained in France have won, most recently Cortolvin in 1867. Innox jumped round in seventh place last year, but he is a more mature performer this term and ran a fine trial at Sandown last time in beating Gold Cup fourth (and stablemate) L'Ami.

Best price: 14-1.

FOUR BUBBLING UNDER

Cornish Rebel

Irish-bred brown gelding (28-3-97) by Un Desperado ex Katday.

Trainer: Paul Nicholls, Somerset.

Owner: Graham Roach.

Jockey: Joe Tizzard.

Weight: 11st 9lb.

Best Mate's brother, but siblings have yet to win a Gold Cup and a Grand National. Has been consistent in good company, including third in the latest Hennessy. Ran better in the Gold Cup than his 16th place suggests, having been in the mix when hitting the third-last.

Best price: 22-1.

Juveigneur

French-bred chestnut gelding (9-3-97) by Funny Baby ex Azurea.

Trainer: Nicky Henderson, Berks.

Owner: Trevor Hemmings.

Jockey: Mick Fitzgerald.

Weight: 10st 9lb.

Ended last term with a fine second in Sandown's long-distance finale but started this season disappointingly, with a fall (at the first in the Becher Chase in November) and a pulled-up. But came back to form in style at Cheltenham, staying on well to take second in a three-miler. Best price: 33-1.

Direct Access

Irish-bred chestnut gelding (23-3-95) by Roselier ex Spanish Flame.

Trainer: Nicky Richards, Cumbria.

Owner: Direct Access Partnership.

Jockey: Tony Dobbin.

Weight: 10st 6lb.

Lightly raced this term. Fell at the first in the Becher Chase in November; six days later won easily at Newcastle. His sire has the best recent National record: two wins (Royal Athlete and Bindaree), two seconds (Suny Bay), a third (Moorcroft Boy) and a fourth (Ebony Jane).

Best price: 33-1.

Ross Comm

British-bred grey gelding (7-5-96) by Minster Son ex Yemaail.

Trainer: Sue Smith.

Owner: Kevin Treanor.

Jockey: Dominic Elsworth.

Weight: 10st 5lb.

Had a lucrative time on the summer circuit and was going well when he fell in the later stages of the Hennessy. Produced a career-best performance winning at Carlisle last time. Only two greys have won Nationals, The Lamb (1868, 1871) and Nicolaus Silver (1961).

Best price: 40-1.

FOUR LIVELY LONGSHOTS

Therealbandit

Irish-bred bay gelding (28-4-97) by Torus ex Sunrise Highway.

Trainer: Martin Pipe, Somerset.

Owner: David Johnson.

Jockey: Richard Johnson.

Weight: 11st 9lb.

Was a high-class novice - finished seventh in the Gold Cup - thoughlost his way in his second season. But comes to the fray fresher than most, not having run since winning a good Grade Three at Wetherby in December, when he stayed on well and jumped with much of his old verve.

Best price: 40-1.

Le Roi Miguel

French-bred brown gelding (19-4-98) by Point Of No Return ex Loumir.

Trainer: Paul Nicholls, Somerset.

Owner: The Stewart family.

Jockey: Liam Heard.

Weight: 11st 7lb.

Very smart two-miler at his best - won an Aintree Grade One chase as a novice - but has started to step down in class and up in distance. His last two runs have been over hurdles, most recently a creditable long-distance warm-up at Cheltenham. Best on a flat track.

Best price: 66-1.

Haut de Gamme

French-bred chestnut gelding (16-3-95) by Morespeed ex Chantalouette.

Trainer: Ferdy Murphy, N Yorks.

Owner: Haut de Gamme Syndicate.

Jockey: Keith Mercer.

Weight: 10st 7lb.

Has proved himself round Aintree; in two visits finished second in last year's Topham Trophy and a close, hampered, fifth in the Becher Chase in November. Has since had three runs over hurdles, including a victory; last time ran respectably over too short a trip at Uttoxeter.

Best price: 40-1.

Colnel Rayburn

Irish-bred bay gelding (1-6-96) by Un Desperado ex Super Boreen.

Trainer: Paul Nolan, Co Wexford.

Owner: Thatch Ferns/Ned Dillon.

Jockey: John Cullen.

Weight: 10st 6lb.

Ran prominently last year until hampered and stopped in his tracks at Becher's second time. Has had an eye-catching low-key preparation this term, one run over hurdles and then two respectable fifth places over fences, most recently in a Grade Two over two miles.

Best price: 40-1.

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